Thomas Cromwell’s Downfall: Part 5 – Cromwell’s Final Letter, 24 July 1540

Cromwell is directly to Henry’s right, receiving the English bible from Henry, with Cranmer on the left. Ironic considering Cromwell and Cranmer created the bible.

On 24 July, Thomas Cromwell wrote his final letter from the Tower, and discussed none of the issues you would expect. Those in the Tower who were awaiting execution generally knew their time was coming, and set about making sure their debts were paid. If found guilty of heresy and/or treason, or attainted (declared guilty without a trial), all possessions were forfeit to the crown, and so no will was required. Even so, many wrote notes asking for help for others, to pay bills or pass on messages. Sadly, nothing remains of Cromwell making preparations at the end of his life, or even how far in advance Cromwell knew of the end of his days. While Henry nicely planned his wedding to  Katheryn Howard to coincide with Cromwell’s execution, precious few knew of the alignment, and  certainly not Cromwell himself.

So the final letter written by Cromwell is one that centres on none of his situation. Rather, his letter to the Privy Council instead is over what is now called The Rochepot Affair. To cut a long story short and to simplify (I do explain it properly in my book), François de Montmorency, Sieur de la Rochepot (brother to the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency) had a ship confiscated in London, on Cromwell’s orders in 1538. A year earlier, the ship of one of three which attacked and robbed German merchants (Easterlings). While the ship could be held for the crime of attacking the Germans, a second incident had occurred. The French were withholding Cromwell’s precious English bibles, which were printed in Paris, and Rochepot’s ship could be exchanged for the bibles. But after the French released the captive bibles and they went to England in 1539, Cromwell never released the ship, and it sat idle. Jurisdiction on the case, which would see the ship released, took time. Cromwell had no interest in Rochepot’s ship; it was merely a pawn. But the king of France argued that Cromwell kept the ship in order to plunder its valuable goods. There is no proof of this, and nor did even Cromwell’s biggest enemies, all also on the panel to oversee the ship’s release, accuse him, only the French. But as Cromwell was attainted, he became a good scapegoat in the saga ofthe ongoing litigation, and Cromwell’s final letter attempts to clear his name of any wrongdoing over the “prize” aboard the Rochepot ship.


CROMWELL TO THE LORDS OF THE COUNCIL, 24 July 1540 ( LP xv  no. 910)

It pleases your good lordships to understand that I have read the letter sent to the king’s Majesty, sent from the French king, touching Monsieur de Rochepot, in which it appears that the French king supposes that, by my means, the said matter has not been ordered, and that I should have a great part of that prize. My lords, first, as I shall answer to God, I never bore favour in the matter otherwise than to justice appertaining, which was that Easterlings, who said they were, being in league with the French king, robbed by his subjects, desiring that forasmuch as their goods were safe within the king’s ports that they might have justice here. Whereupon, the matter was committed to the hearing of the Judge of the Admiralty, and the Proctor of Monsieur de Rochepot agreed and consented to the jurisdiction of the court, and so the French party as well as the Easterlings contended upon the matter as to whether it should be tried in France or England. Thereupon, as I remember a sentence was given that the matter should be tried in England, whereupon the French party departed and after sent hither an advocate of France, who took himself to be satisfied with the order taken, and also departed. After the ambassador, now present here, made suit to the king to have the matter remitted to be determined in France, at which time a consultation of learned men before the king’s honourable council was had at Gilford, and there it was thought that the king’s Majesty might, with his honour, remit the matter into France. But it was agreed on the king’s part that if the French king would send his commissary to a place indifferent, then his Majesty would the like and whatsoever should be determined there should be performed. My Lord of Norfolk, me Lord Privy Seal, my Lord of Durham and my Lord of Winchester were at that Council, and my Lord of London was at that time, being the king’s ambassador, fully instructed of the whole matter, but that ever I had any part of that prize or that I were promised any part thereof, my lords, assure yourselves I was not, as God shall and may help me. This, my good lords, I pray the eternal Redeemer to preserve you all in long life good health with long prosperity. At the Tower the 24th day of July with the trembling hand of your bedesman.



By this time, all that was left was for the execution, and Cromwell’s great final speech on the scaffold four days later.


By 1529, Thomas Cromwell was already wealthy man, a man who had no need to work for the royal court. He had the beautiful home at Austin Friars, a successful career, loyal friends and allies at home and abroad, and a close immediate and extended family. But 1528 had been the peak of the sweating sickness outbreak, and records indicate that  Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth died in October 1528, while Cromwell managed to survive the outbreak (if you want the specifics, you will need to wait for my next book).  Cromwell fell behind on his work, and had to push himself to catch up over the New Year. Cromwell wasn’t in good place; he started calling him his debts in February 1529, (more than  £2,000,000 in today’s money) and in July made his will. 

Cromwell left most of his items to family, primarily to his young son Gregory, and his daughters Anne and Grace, who are crossed out after their deaths in October 1530 (again, you will need to wait for the book for the specifics). Cromwell listed many members of his family; his late sister Katherine Williams had three sons – Richard, Walter and Gregory (Richard changed his name to Cromwell around mid-1529, as did Walter, though Gregory remained as Williams). Cromwell’s other sister Elizabeth Wellyfed (d.1533) had Christopher, William and Alice, all of whom Cromwell educated and cared for. Also mentioned in Joan Williamson, Elizabeth Cromwell’s sister, along with her husband John, their daughter Joan, and other very young children. The couple, along with Elizabeth’s mother Mercy, all lived and worked at Austin Friars until 1540. Another curious mention is Elizabeth Gregory, servant to Elizabeth Cromwell, but again, you shall need to wait for the book. 

Cromwell lands and possession change markedly year on year, and there must have been many revisions to his will, especially around his life threatening illnesses in 1532, 34, 35 and 1539. he had manors in Stepney, Mortlake, Hackney, Wimbledon, lands around London, Sussex, much of Essex, even lands in Wales, all of which would have been shared between his son, nephews, Ralph Sadler  and many loyal servants. Sadly, no copies survive, meaning we lose so much information about Cromwell’s life. The inventory of Austin Friars made after Cromwell’s execution is only partial.


(British National Archives, Letter and Papers of Henry VIII, iv.5772)

In the name of God Amen, the 11th day of July in the year of our lord God 1528 1529 and in the 21st year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King Henry the 8th. I, Thomas Cromwell of London, gentleman, being whole in body and in good and perfect memory. Lauded be the Holy Trinity make ordain and declare this my present testament containing my last will in manner and form following.

FIRST I bequeath my soul to the great God of heaven my maker Creator and Redeemer, beseeching the most glorious virgin our blessed lady Saint Mary the virgin and Mother with all the holy company of heaven to be Mediators and Intercessors for me to the Holy Trinity, so that I may be able when it shall please Almighty God to call me out of this miserable world and transitory life to inherit the kingdom of heaven amongst the number of good Christian people. And when so ever I shall depart this present life, I bequeath my body to be buried where it shall please God to ordain me to die and to be ordered after the discretion of my executors under-named. And for my goods, which our lord has lent me in this world, I will shall be ordered and disposed in manner and form as hereafter shall ensue. First, I give and bequeath to my son Gregory Cromwell, six hundred threescore six (666) pounds, thirteen shillings, four pence of lawful money of England. With the six hundred threescore six pounds, thirteen shillings, four pence, I will my executors under-named immediately or as some as they conveniently may after my decease shall purchase lands, tenements and hereditaments to the clear yearly value of 20 33l 6s 8d by the year above, all charges and reprises to those of my son Gregory for term of his life. And after the decease of the said Gregory, to the male heirs of his body lawfully to be begotten. And for lack of male heirs of the body of Gregory lawfully to be begotten to the heirs general of his body lawfully begotten. And for lack of such heirs to the right heirs of me, the said Thomas Cromwell in fee. I will also that immediately and as one as the lands, tenements and hereditaments shall be so purchased after my death as is aforesaid by my executors that the yearly profits thereof shall be holy spent and employed in and about the education and finding honestly of my said son Gregory in virtue, good learning, and manner until such time as he shall come to the full age of 22 years. During which time I heartily desire and require my said executors to be good to my son Gregory and to see he loses no time but see him virtuously ordered and brought up according to my trust.

Item: I give and bequeath to my said son Gregory, when he shall come to his full age of 21 22, 200 pounds of lawful English money. To order then as our lord shall give him grace and discretion, which 200 pounds shall be put in surety to the intent the same may come to his hands at his said age of 24 years.

Item: I give and bequeath to my son Gregory of such household stuff as God has lent me. Two Three of my best Featherbeds a Bolster the best with their bolsters and the two best pairs of blankets of Fustian (twill cloth) my best coverlet  of Tapestry and my Quilt of yellow turquoise satin, 10 pairs of my best sheets two four pillows of down with 4 pairs of the best pillow cases, two four of my best table clothes, four of my best towels, one dozen two dozen of my finest napkins and two dozen of my other napkins, a two garnish of my best vessel, three of my best brass pots, three of my best brass pans, two of my best kettles, two of my best spits, my best joined bed of Flanders work with the best sparver (canopy) and tester, and other the appurtenances thereto belonging. My best press carving of Flanders work and my best Cupboard carving of Flanders work, with also six joined stoles of Flanders work and six of my best cushions.

Item: I give and bequeath to my son Gregory, a (raised) basin parcel (partly) gilt, my best salt gilt, my best cup gilt, three three of my best goblets gilt, three other of my best goblets parcel gilt, six twelve of my best silver spoons, and my three of my best drinking ale pots gilt. All the which parcels of plate and household stuff I will shall be safely kept to those of my son Gregory till he shall come to his full age of 22 years, and all the which plate household stuff Napery and other the premises I will my executors do put in safekeeping until my son shall come to the said years or age of 22. And if he die before the age of 24 22, then I will all the said plate vessels and household stuff shall be sold by my executors, and the money thereof coming to be given and equally divided amongst my poor kinsfolk. That is to say amongst the children as well of my sister Elizabeth and Katheryn, and of my late wife’s sister, Joan, wife to John Williamson. And if it happen that all the children of my said sisters and sister-in-law die before the partition and division be made, and none of them to be living, then I will that all the said plate, vessels and household stuff shall be sold and given to other my poor kinsfolk, then being on live (alive) and other poor and indigent (needy)  people in need of charity, for my soul, my Father and Mother their souls, and all Christian souls.

Item: I give and bequeath to my daughter Anne, one hundred marks of lawful money of England when she shall come to her lawful age, or happen to be married, and 40 pounds towards her finding  until the time that she shall be of lawful age or be married. Which 40 pounds I will shall be delivered to my friend John Croke, one of the six clerks of the king’s Chancery, to the intent he may order the same and cause the same to be employed in the best ways he can devise about the virtuous education and bringing up of my daughter till she shall come to her lawful age or marriage. And if it happen my daughter to die before she comes to her lawful age or be married, then I will that the said one hundred marks and the said 40 pounds, then unspent and unemployed at the day of the death of my said daughter Anne, I will it shall remain (return) to Gregory my son if he then be on live, and if he be dead, the same 100 marks and also the said 40 pounds, then unspent, to be departed amongst my sisters’ children in manner and form foresaid. And if it happens my sisters’ children then to be all dead, then I will the 100 marks and 40 pounds, then unspent, shall be divided amongst my kinsfolk such as then shall be on live.

Item: I give and bequeath to my sister Elizabeth Wellyfed, wife to William Wellyfed, 30 pounds which she owes me, twenty pounds sterling, 40 pounds, three goblets without a cover, a maser (wooden drinking bowl) and a nut (coconut bowl).

Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew Richard Williams, servant with my lord Marquess Dorset, 40 pounds  66 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence sterling, my fourth best gown, doublet and jacket.

Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew Christopher Wellyfed 20 40 pounds, my fifth best gown, doublet and jacket.

Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew William Wellyfed the younger, 10 20 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to my niece Alice Wellyfed to her marriage 20 pounds. And if it she were to die before marriage then I will the 20 pounds shall remain to her brother Christopher, and if he were to die, the same 20 pounds shall remain to William Wellyfed the younger his brother. And if they all were to die before their lawful age or marriage, then I will that their parts shall remain to Gregory my son. And if he were to die before them, then I will all the parts shall remain to Anne and Grace my daughters Richard Williams and Walter Williams my nephews. And if they were to die, then I will that all the said parts shall be distributed in deeds of charity for my soul, my Father and Mother’s souls, and all Christian souls.

Item: I give and bequeath to my mother-in-law Mercy Prior, 40 pounds of lawful English money and her chamber with certain household stuff. That is to say, a featherbed, a bolster (bed-length cylinder cushion), two pillows with their bearers (cases), six pairs of sheets, a pair of blankets, a garnished vessel, two pots, two pans, two spits, with such other of my household stuff as shall be thought for her by the discretion of my executors, and such as she will reasonably desire not being bequeathed to others in this, my present testament and last will.

Item: I give and bequeath to my said mother-in-law a little Salt of silver, a maser (wooden drinking bowl), six silver spoons, and a drinking pot of silver. And also, I charge my executors to be good to her during her life.

Item: I give and bequeath to my brother-in-law William Wellyfed 20 pounds, my third gown, jacket and doublet.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Williamson my brother-in-law 20 pounds 40 pounds 100 marks (66 pounds), a gown, a doublet and a jacket. A featherbed, a bolster, six pairs of sheets, two tablecloths, two dozen napkins, two towels, two brass pots, two bras pans, a silver pot, a nut parcel gilt, and to Joan his wife 6 pounds, 13 shillings 4 pence ten pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to Joan Williamson their daughter, to her marriage 20 pounds and to every other of their children 3 pounds 6 shillings 8 pence 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence.

Item: I bequeath to Walter Williams my cousin nephew, 20 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to Ralph Sadler my servant, 100 marks 200 marks (132 pounds) of lawful English money, my best second gown, jacket and doublet and all my books.

Item: I give and bequeath to Hugh Whalley my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to Stephen Vaughan, sometimes my servant, 10 pounds 100 marks (66 pounds), a gown, jacket and doublet.

Item: I give and bequeath to (John) Page my servant, otherwise called John du Pount, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence and also to Thomas Avery my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to Elizabeth Gregory, sometime my servant, 20 pounds, six pairs of sheets, a featherbed, a pair of blankets, a coverlet, tablecloths, one dozen napkins, two brass pots, two brass pans, two spits.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Croke, one of the six clerks of the Chancery, 10 pounds, my second gown, doublet and jacket.

Item: I give and bequeath to Roger More, servant of the king’s bakehouse, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence, 3 yards of satin, and to Maudelyn his wife, 3 pounds 6 shillings and 8 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Horwood, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence.

‘Item: I give and bequeath to my little daughter Grace 100 marks (66 pounds) of lawful English money when she shall come to her lawful age or marriage, and also 40 pounds towards her exhibition and finding until such time she be of lawful age or be married. Which 40 pounds I will shall be delivered to my brother in law John Williamson to the intent he may order and cause the same to be employed in and about the virtuous education and bringing up of my daughter till she shall come to her lawful age or marriage. And if it happens my daughter dies before she comes to her lawful age or marriage, then I will that the 100 marks (66 pounds) and so much of the said 40 pounds, as then shall be unspent and unemployed on the finding of my daughter at the day of the death of my daughter, shall remain and be delivered to Gregory my son, and if he happen to be on live. And if he be dead, then the 100 marks and residue of the 40 pounds shall be departed amongst my pour kinsfolk, that is to say, my sisters’ children foresaid.

Item: that the rest of my apparel, before not given and bequeathed in this my testament and last will, shall be given and equally departed amongst my servants after the order and discretion of my executors.

Item: I will also that my executors shall take the yearly profits above the charges of my lease of Sutton at Hone and Temple Dartford in the County of Kent And shall take the profit of my ferme (lease) of the parsonage of Sutton Lease of Canonbury, and all other things contended within my said lease of Canonbury in the County of Middlesex, and with the profits thereof coming shall yearly pay to my brother in law William Wellyfed and Elizabeth his wife my only sister, 20 pounds, during their lives, and the longer of them and after the death of William and Elizabeth, the profits of the said ferme (lease) over and above the yearly rent to be kept to the use of my son Gregory till he come to the age of 22, and at the year of 22, the said lease and rent of Canonbury, I do give and bequeath to my said son Gregory to have the same to him his executors and assignees in deeds of charity over and above charges and reparations, give and distribute for my soul quarterly 40 shillings amongst poor people until my son Gregory shall come to the age of 35 years if he so long do live. And then my son to have my lease during the years contained within my leases. And if by fortune Gregory my son dies before he shall com to the age of 35 22 years, my brother-in-law and sister being dead, then I will my cousin Richard Williams shall take the lease with the appurtenances to him and his executors and assignees. And if it happen my brother-in-law, my sister and my son Gregory and my cousin Richard are to die before the accomplishment of this my will, touching the lease, then I will my executors shall sell the lease and the money to the most profit and advantage thereof, coming to employ in deeds of charity upon my poor kinsfolk and other charitable deeds to pray for my soul and all Christian souls.

Item: I will that my executors shall conduct and hire a priest, being an honest person of content and good living, to sing for my soul by the space of three seven years next after my death and to give him for the same, 20 pounds 46 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence, that is to say 6 pounds, 13 shillings and 4 pence yearly for his stipend.

Item: I give and bequeath towards the making of highways in this realm where it shall be thought by the discretion of my executors most necessary, 20 pounds, to be disposed by the discretion of my executors.

Item: I give and bequeath to every of the five orders of friars within the city of London to pray for my soul 13 shillings 4 pence 20 shillings.

Item I give and bequeath to 60 poor maidens marriages 20 pounds 40 pounds. That is to say, 6 shillings 8 pence 13 shillings 4 pence to every of the poor maidens to be given and distributed by the discretion of my executors. Item: I will that there shall be dealt and given after my death, amongst poor people householders to pray for my soul, 10 pounds 20 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to the poor parishioners, such as by my executors shall think it most needful of the parish, where God shall ordain me to have my dwelling place at the time of my death, 5 pounds 10 pounds, to be truly distributed amongst them by the discretion of my executors.

Item: I give and bequeath to my parish church, for my tithes forgotten 20 shillings.

Item: I give and bequeath to the poor prisoners of Newgate Ludgate King’s bench and Marshall See, to be equally distributed amongst them, 10 pounds, willing, charging and desiring my executors underwritten that they shall see this my will performed in every point, according to my true meaning and intent, as they will answer to God and discharge their consciences. 

(Cromwell then personally wrote out extra bequeaths to be added to the will)

Item: I give and bequeath to William Brabazon my servant, 20 pounds sterling, a gown, doublet, a jacket and my second gelding.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Avery, yeoman of the bottle with the king’s highness, 6 pounds, 13 shillings 4 pence, and doublet of satin.

Item: I bequeath to Thurston my cook, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to William Body my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item I give and bequeath to Peter Mewtes my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to Richard Swift my servant,  6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to George Wilkinson my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to my friend Thomas Alvard, 10 pounds and my best gelding.

Item: I give and bequeath to my friend Thomas Rush 10 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to my servant John Hynde my horse keeper, 3 pounds 6 shillings 8 pence.

Item: I will that my executors shall solely keep the patent of the Manor of Rumney, to the use of my son Gregory and the money growing thereof till he shall come to his lawful age, to be yearly retained to the use of my son, and the whole revenue thereof coming to be truly paid to him at such time as he shall come to the age of 21 years.

The residue of all my goods, chattels, and debts not bequeathed, my funeral and burial performed, which I will shall be done without any earthly pomp and my debts paid, I will shall be sold and the money thereof coming to be distributed in works of charity and pity after the good discretion of my executors undernamed, whom I make and ordain John Croke, one of the six clerks of the king’s Chancery, Stephen Vaughan and Ralph Sadler, my servants, John Smyth and John Williamson my brother-in-law. Praying and desiring the same my executors to be good to my son Gregory and to my little daughters Anne and Grace, and to all other my friends, poor kinsfolk and servants before named in this my testament. And of this, my present testament and last will, I make Roger More my overseer, unto whom and also to every of the other my executors I give and bequeath 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence for their pains to be taken in the execution of this my last will and testament, over and above such legacies as here before I have bequeathed them in this same my testament and last will. In witness to this, my present testament and last will, I have set my hand in every leaf contained in this book the day and year before limited.

per me, Thomas Cromwell (signed, likewise all other pages)


Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 3 – Cromwell’s letter, 12 June 1540

This is my own transcription of Cromwell’s first letter to the king, as published in my upcoming book of Cromwell’s letters. Cromwell addresses the charges against him, that he had spoken with Michael Throgmorton, servant to  the ‘heretic’ Reginald Pole, in the company of Sir Richard Rich, who would lie about anything or anyone, regardless of the outcome. Then Cromwell addresses that he did not speak of Henry’s impotence with anyone but William Fitzwilliam, who Henry had given permission to know about the problem. The fact that Henry believed Cromwell had spoken about it was because Wriothesley had opened his big mouth about Cromwell’s slip of the tongue the month previous, where he almost told Wriothesley the secret. Cromwell also mentioned Thomas Audley, to be sure that he knows the truth about Cromwell and doesn’t want him implicated. Cromwell then discusses how he spoke with Thomas Manners, on ways to make Queen Anna more agreeable to Henry, and that is was done in confidence.

None of the charges laid against Cromwell are directly mentioned in the letter, which suggests that the charges had no been fully formed at the time of the arrest, and the hasty drafts that were soon to go through parliament were still being formed.



(B.M. Titus B. i, 273, TNA xv no. 776)

Most gracious King and most merciful sovereign, your most humble most obedient and most bounden subject and most lamentable servant and prisoner, prostrates at the feet of your most excellent majesty. I have heard your pleasure by the mouth of your Comptroller[1] which was that I should write to your most excellent highness, such things as I thought mete[2] to be written concerning my most miserable state and condition, for the which your most abundant goodness, benignity and license the immortal God there and on reward, Your Majesty. And now, most gracious Prince, to the matter. First whereas I have been accused to your Majesty of treason, to that I say I never in all my life thought willingly to do that thing that might or should displease your Majesty and much less to do or say that thing which of itself is so high and abominable offence, as God knows who I doubt not shall reveal the truth to your Highness. My accusers your Grace knows God forgive them. For as I ever have had love to your honour, person life, prosperity, health, wealth, joy, and comfort, and also your most dear and most entirely beloved son, the Prince his Grace, and your proceeding. God so help me in this my adversity and confound me if ever I thought the contrary. What labours, pains and travails I have taken according to my most bounden duty, God also knows, for if it were in my power as it is God’s to make your Majesty to live ever young and prosperous, God knows I would, if it had been or were in my power to make you so rich, as you might enrich all men. God help me, as I would do it if it had been, or were, in my power to make your Majesty so puissant as all the world should be compelled to obey you. Christ, he knows I would for so am I of all other most bound for your Majesty who has been the most bountiful prince to me that ever was king to his subject. You are more like a dear father, your Majesty, not offended then a master. Such has been your most grave and godly counsels towards me at sundry times in that I have offended I ask your mercy. Should I now, for such exceeding goodness, benignity, liberality, and bounty be your traitor, nay then the greatest pains were too little for me. Should any faction or any affection to any point make me a traitor to your Majesty then all the devils in hell confound me and the vengeance of God light upon me if I should once have thought it. Most gracious sovereign lord, to my remembrance I never spoke with the Chancellor of the Augmentations[3] and Throgmorton[4] together at one time. But if I did, I am sure I spoke never of any such matter and your Grace knows what manner of man Throgmorton has ever been towards your Grace and your preceding. And what Master Chancellor[5] has been towards me, God and he best knows I will never accuse him. What I have been towards him, your Majesty, right well knows I would to Christ I had obeyed your often most gracious, grave counsels and advertisements, then it had not been with me as now it is. Yet our lord, if it be his will, can do with me as he did with Susan[6] who was falsely accused, unto the which God I have only committed my soul, my body and goods at your Majesty’s pleasure, in whose mercy and piety I do holy repose me for other hope then in God and your Majesty I have not. Sir, as to your Commonwealth, I have after my wit, power and knowledge travailed therein having had no respect to persons (your Majesty only except) and my duty to the same but that I have done any injustice or wrong wilfully, I trust God shall bear my witness and the world not able justly to accuse me, and yet I have not done my duty in all things as I was bound wherefore I ask mercy. If I have heard of any combinations, conventicles or such as were offenders of your laws, I have though not as I should have done for the most part revealed them and also caused them to be punished not of malice as God shall judge me. Nevertheless, Sir, I have meddled in so many matters under your Highness that I am not able to answer them all, but one thing I am well assured of that, wittingly and willingly. I have not had will to offend your Highness, but hard as it is for me or any other meddling as I have done to live under your Grace and your laws, but we must daily offend and where I have offended, I most humbly ask mercy and pardon at your gracious will and pleasure. Amongst other things, most gracious sovereign, Master Comptroller showed me that your Grace showed him that within these 14 days you committed a matter of great secret,[7] which I did reveal contrary to your expectation. Sir, I do remember well the matter which I never revealed to any creature, but this I did, Sir, after your grace had opened the matter first to me in your chamber and declared your lamentable fate declaring the thing which your Highness misliked in the Queen, at which time I showed your Grace that she often desired to speak with me but I dared not and you said why should I not, alleging that I might do much good in going to her and to be playing with her in declaring my mind. I thereupon, lacking opportunity, not being a little grieved spoke privily with her Lord Chamberlain,[8] for the which I ask your Grace mercy, desiring him not naming your Grace to him to find some means that the Queen might be induced to order your Grace pleasantly in her behaviour towards your thinking, thereby for to have had some faults amended, to your Majesty’s comfort. And after that, by general word of the said Lord Chamberlain and others of the Queen’s Council, being with me in my chamber at Westminster for license for the departure of the strange maidens. I then required them to counsel their masters to use all pleasantness to your Highness, the which things undoubtedly warn both spoken before your Majesty committed the secret matter unto me only of purpose that she might have been induced to such pleasant and honourable fashions as might have been to your Grace’s comfort which above all things as God knows I did most court and desire, but that I opened my mouth to any creature after your Majesty committed the secret thereof to me, other then only to my Lord Admiral, which I did by your Grace’s commandment which was upon Sunday last in the morning, whom I then found as willing and glad to ask remedy for your comfort and consolation, and saw by him that he did as much lament your Highness’ fate as ever did a man, and was wonderfully grieved to see your Highness so troubled, wishing greatly your comfort. For the attaining whereof, he said for your honour saved, he would spend the best blood in his body, and if I would not do the like and willingly die for your comfort I would I were in hell, and I would I should receive a thousand deaths. Sir, this is all that I have done in that matter and if I have offended your Majesty, therein prostrate at your Majesty’s feet. I most lowly aske mercy and pardon of your Highness. Sir, there was also laid unto my charge at my examination that I had retained, contrary to your laws, Sir. What exposition may be made upon retainers I know not, but this will I say, if ever I retained any man but such only as were my household servants but against my will God confound me, but, most gracious sovereign, I have been so called on and sought by them that said they were my friend that constrained thereunto. I received their children and friends, not as retainers, for their fathers and parents did promise me to friend them and so took I them not as retainers to my great charge and for none evil as God best knows interpret to the contrary who will most humbly beseeching your Majesty of pardon if I have offended therein. Sir, I do acknowledge myself to have been a most miserable and wretched sinner and that I have not towards God and your Highness behaved myself as I ought and should have done. For the which, my offence to God while I live I shall continually call for his mercy and for my offences to your Grace which God knows were never malicious nor wilful, and that I never thought treason to your Highness your realm or posterity. So God, help me in word or deed, nevertheless I prostrate at your Majesty’s feet in what thing soever I have offended I appeal to your Highness for mercy, grace and pardon in such ways as shall be your pleasure beseeching the almighty maker and redeemer of this world to send your Majesty continual and long health, wealth and prosperity with Nestor’s[9] years to reign, and your most dear son, the prince’s grace, to prosper reign and continue long after you, and they that would contrary, a short life, shame, and confusion. Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject and most humble servant and prisoner, this Saturday at your Tower of London.





[1] William Kingston

[2] measured

[3] Sir Richard Rich

[4] Michael Throgmorton, associate to Reginald Pole

[5] Thomas Audley

[6] The Book of Daniel – a Hebrew wife named Susanna was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs.

[7] The impotence, which was only known by Cromwell and Lord Admiral Fitzwilliam

[8] Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland

[9] Nestor from the Iliad, known for wisdom and generosity, which increased as he aged.

Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 1 – The Arrest 10 June 1540

A surprising thing happened on the afternoon of 10 June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell was running late. Sure, he had been at Parliament in the morning, and had a Privy Council meeting at 3pm, but Cromwell didn’t need to go far between his two important tasks for the day. Cromwell was never late for anything, and no record exists explaining why Cromwell had to rush into a Privy Council meeting already attended by all members – and William Kingston, Constable of the Tower.

What was not a surprise was the arrest of Thomas Cromwell. Many were stunned by the news that the Lord Privy Seal, the King’s Chief Minister, the most powerful man in England, was suddenly arrested on vague charges, sent to the Tower on the King’s command. But in truth, the clues had been spread out of the course of the previous year, and Cromwell’s chief enemies, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, had slowly tightened the net around their common nemesis.

Parliament had been dissolved in July 1536 and did not sit again until Henry summoned his ministers in March 1539. Cromwell had ensured Parliament sat regularly from 1529, running yearly reformation parliaments, changing the nature of politics under King Henry. But the Pilgrimage of Grace, the death of Jane Seymour, and Henry’s increasing illness and paranoia had got in the way of Cromwell’s changes. Cromwell’s political to-do list was huge by 1539, although his religious reforms had continued without parliament and despite the rebellion of 1536-37.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Cromwell gets unlucky

Just prior to parliament’s opening on 28 April 1539, Cromwell fell ill, which he described by letter to Henry as an ague or tertian fever (possibly malaria).[1] Cromwell suffered a number of near-fatal illnesses throughout his time at court, usually always in spring, managing to beat them every time. Cromwell’s 1539 illness was a brutal one, rendering the Lord Privy Seal bedridden at Austin Friars and then at St James’ Palace, which was kept for his use, through most of April and May. Cromwell was seen outside St James’ when a muster of Henry’s troops, led by Ralph Sadler and included Richard and Gregory Cromwell, marched past the Palace, but the amount of work he completed almost ground to a halt.

While Cromwell lay in his sickbed, Norfolk was ready to pounce. He summoned the Convocation of Canterbury, and invited Convocation of York members as well, and pushed reform through the House of Lords, where Cromwell was too ill to attend. Norfolk was the face of The Six Articles,[2] which rolled back Cromwell’s reformist changes. The Six Articles, mostly dealing with matters of the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, vows of chastity, transubstantiation, private masses and confessions, brought King Henry and England way back to Catholic practises. By the time the first session of parliament closed in June, Cromwell still had not appeared before the House of Lords or House of Commons, and the damage to the Reformation had been done.

Cromwell loses his cool

King Henry wanted religious unity in England before he went on progress, and set up a banquet at Cranmer’s place, Lambeth Palace, but refused to attend himself. Cranmer was already in a poor mood, as he had just sent his wife and daughter from England,[3] as his marriage was deemed illegal by the Six Articles. All sides of religious debate attended the banquet, Cromwell included, on 2 July 1539. After years of backstabbing, rumours and snide comments, Cromwell and Norfolk had the public fight that had long been brewing. Norfolk gleefully slandered Wolsey before the banquet and Cromwell snapped, accusing Norfolk of supporting Rome over England. Norfolk had begged to go to Rome with Wolsey when the cardinal expected to be made Pope in 1523, remembering every detail, down to the money Norfolk made during the negotiations to have Wolsey elected, acting as the ‘protector of the future Pope’ and sailed the Mary Rose, to accompany Emperor Charles’ ship from England.[4] These details enraged Norfolk, essentially being accusing as a traitor to his king and his country.

Duchess Anna, Daughter of Cleves

Cromwell accidentally picks the wrong queen

Cromwell wanted to push harder than ever to secure the Reformation in England. The monasteries were almost dissolved, and the delegation went to the German States to secure a royal bride and alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, with its powerful Lutheran army. Holbein brought home portraits of Anna and Amalia, Duchesses of Cleves in October 1539, and Henry decided to marry Anna in a rush.[5] There are no reports Cromwell ever bragged of Anna’s qualities, nor that Holbein’s over-exaggerated Anna’s beauty. Anna had a powerful Lutheran brother, Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and her sister, Sybilla, Electress of Saxony, wife to the head of Schmalkaldic League. Duchess Anna was perfect for England; young, beautiful, clever and well-connected. The duchess of a Lutheran state, which was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. She was strongly supported by her Lutheran family but was Catholic like her mother.[6] Cleves was the perfect ‘middle-way’ of religion, needed to secure alliances and peace.

By the time that Anna had finally reached England to marry King Henry in January 1540, international movements had ruined everything Cromwell had crafted. Henry was listening to the whispers of Norfolk and Gardiner, turning back to Catholicism. Anna’s brother Wilhelm had all-but declared war against Emperor Charles over the German state of Guelders. Once Henry married Anna, England would be in alliance and could have to fight against Emperor Charles. France swayed back and forth, helping to undo all negotiations of alliances between these formidable powers of Europe. Cromwell couldn’t undo the marriage contract; he had helped to create it, and it was water-tight.

The long-held rumours of Henry calling Anna ugly, “a Flanders mare,” have dogged the tale through the centuries, despite documents telling a very different story. Jousts were held in Anna’s honour; the people spoke of her beauty and kindness.[7] England quickly warmed to Anna, but Henry wanted out of any alliance that could mean war. Emperor Charles was furious that England would align with the reformers, but the Germans were also unhappy with the marriage, with Henry not backing them on matters of war, and not undoing the infuriating Six Articles. Cromwell had promised the German ambassadors he would crush Norfolk and the Six Articles, but had lost the power in parliament and convocations to do so.

Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester

Cromwell makes a mistake

Despite all the troubles with Anna, Henry still believed in Cromwell, confiding in him about his impotence with Anna, and making Cromwell the Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain in April 1540. While the marriage was still sound, Cromwell had completed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and made Henry rich. Cromwell’s enemies, such as Norfolk and Gardiner, were stunned, as were Ambassador Chapuys and Ambassador Marillac. Gardiner and Cromwell had been together at dinner at Austin Friars only weeks before, where Cromwell made a mistake. Cromwell told Gardiner “if the king did turn from the Reformation, I would not turn from it; and if the king turned, and all his people too, I would fight them in the field, with my sword in my hand, against the king and all others.” [8] Cromwell had already lost many allies in parliament and at court as religious changes slowly peeled apart, and this comment would come back to haunt him.

Thomas Wriothesley

Cromwell has a slip of the tongue

In May, Cromwell again made a mistake. He had almost secured an annulment for Henry and Anna, based on a flimsy pre-contract from Anna’s childhood, and was in initial stages of an alliance with France, seen running around the May Day jousts like a crazed man, trying to juggle national and international diplomacy. But he made a rare misstep soon after, admitting aloud of Henry’s impotence to Thomas Wriothesley one tired evening.[9] So many little moments were beginning to add up against Cromwell, just as it had for so many others.

For a long time so many men had sneered at Cromwell’s power. Norfolk had Henry’s ear, as did Gardiner, Bishop Bonner of London, Sir Anthony Browne, and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, all on the Privy Council. Cromwell’s life was still looking up in June 1540 – he had unlimited power in England, his son Gregory was happily married to Elizabeth Seymour and they had three healthy sons, Henry, Edward, and Thomas, at Leeds Castle. Richard Cromwell had just been knighted and called ‘the king’s diamond’ by Henry as he was given a diamond off his own hand. Ralph Sadler, a man so close to Cromwell he was practically a son, was now Principal Secretary to the king, shared with Thomas Wriothesley, one of Cromwell’s most loyal men, in a role Cromwell relinquished to them. Queen Anna’s marriage could be undone, giving Cromwell a chance to secure religious reform alongside Archbishop Cranmer.

Yet, for some unknown reason, Cromwell was late to the Privy Council meeting, where he was quickly called a traitor by most, if not all, of the councillors (though among them was his nephew Richard Cromwell, and close friends Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Audley, who never spoke against him). Even Richard Rich, a long-time colleague, did not defend his master. Sir John Russell, Sir Edward Seymour, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Robert Radcliffe, while not on record as calling for Cromwell’s head, also did not defend the Lord Privy Seal. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and head of the Privy Council, likewise did not speak against Cromwell (Cromwell was godfather to Suffolk’s son Henry[10] and probable godfather to Suffolk’s granddaughter Jane Grey). But Suffolk allowed Kingston to arrest Cromwell, who threw his cap on the table before the Council and cried, “I am no traitor! Your Grace, members of the Council, is this reward for good service done unto His Majesty the king? I put it to your consciences, am I a traitor as your accusations imply? Well, no matter, for I renounce all pardons or grace needed, for I never offended the king, and it matters only if the king himself thinks me a traitor, and he would never have me linger long!”[11]

Norfolk pulled Cromwell’s golden collar from his shoulders, while Fitzwilliam pulled the garter from Cromwell’s leg,[12] as he was still wearing his parliamentary robes, no time to change between meetings. Cromwell was arrested as a traitor, almost eleven years after Reginald Pole had expected to see Cromwell rowed to the Tower alongside Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell’s work on securing a Schmalkaldic alliance showed he was in league with Lutherans and Calvinists across Europe, that he had contacted a marriage that Henry couldn’t remain in, and he had uttered treasonous words to Gardiner over dinner.[13] The Six Articles had got in the way of so many of Cromwell’s reforms, making him appear ineffectual, and Henry knew of Cromwell’s slip-up to Wriothesley about impotence. Cromwell had been betrayed by people close to him, and he left Westminster in a boat to the Tower, where he was housed in the Queen’s rooms – the same rooms Anne Boleyn had stayed in only four years earlier.

Wriothesley himself drafted letters that day to John Wallop, Nicolas Wootton and Christopher Pate in France that very day, talking of Cromwell’s arrest,[14] though letters from Wallop arrived to Cromwell in the following days, having not received the news right away. French Ambassador Charles Marillac wrote to King Francis that very day, writing, “I have just heard that Thomas Cramuel, keeper of the Privy Seal and Vicar-General of the Spirituality, who, since the Cardinal’s death, had the principal management of the affairs of this kingdom, and had been newly made Grand Chamberlain, was an hour ago led prisoner to the Tower and all his goods attached. Although this might be thought a private matter and of little importance, inasmuch as they have only reduced thus a personage to the state from which they raised him and treated him as hitherto everyone said he deserved, yet, considering that public affairs thereby entirely change their course, especially as regards the innovations in religion of which Cramuel was principal author, the news seems of such importance that it ought to be written forthwith. I can add nothing but that no articles of religion are yet concluded, and that the bishops are daily assembled to resolve them, and meanwhile Parliament continues. They were on the point of closing this when a gentleman of this court came to say from the King that I should not be astonished because Cramuel was sent to the Tower, and that, as the common, ignorant people spoke of it variously, the King wished me to know the truth. The substance was that the King, wishing by all possible means to lead back religion to the way of truth, Cramuel was attached to the German Lutherans, had always favoured the doctors who preached such erroneous opinions and hindered those who preached the contrary, and that recently, warned by some of his principal servants to reflect that he was working against the intention of the King and of the Acts of Parliament, he had betrayed himself and said he hoped to suppress the old preachers and have only the new, adding that the affair would soon be brought to such a pass that the King with all his power could not prevent it, but rather his own party would be so strong that Cramuel would make the King descend to the new doctrines even if he had to take arms against him. These plots were told the King by those who heard them and who esteemed their fealty more than the favour of their master. The King also sent word that when he spoke with me that he would tell things which would show how great was the guilt of said Cramuel and that said lord has so long been able to conceal it and the right opportunity now came to give orders.”[15]

Marillac also wrote to Anne Montmorency, Constable of France, saying, “what I wrote last is now verified touching the division among this King’s ministers, who are trying to destroy each other. Cramuel’s party seemed the strongest lately by the taking of the dean of the Chapel, Bishop of Chichester, but it seems quite overthrown by the taking of the said lord Cramuel, who was chief of his group, and there remain only on his side the Archbishop of Canterbury, who dare not open his mouth, and the lord Admiral, who has long learnt to bend to all winds, and they have for open enemies the Duke of Norfolk and the others. The thing is the more marvellous as it was unexpected by everyone.”[16]

Tomorrow – 11 June: Cranmer begs for Cromwell’s life. 


[1] TNA xiv no. 783, SP 7/I f.53, 16 April 1539

[2] McEntegart, Henry VIII, 152

[3] SP I/152 f. 118, July 1539

[4] Ibid 142-44, SP I/142 f. 105

[5] Foxe 1570, 1399.

[6] See Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather Darsie for full information

[7] See Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather Darsie for full information

[8] TNA xv no. 486, 10 April 1540

[9] BL MS Cotton Titus B/I f.273, 12 June 1540

[10] TNA ix no. 386, 18 September 1535

[11] TNA xv no. 804, 23 June 1540

[12] TNA xv no. 804, 23 June 1540

[13] Foxe 1570, 1399.

[14] TNA xv no. 765, St. P. viii.349, 10 June 1540

[15] TNA xv no. 766, Kaulek, 189, 10 June 1540

[16] TNA xv no. 767, Kaulek, 190, 10 June 1540

Thomas Cromwell’s Downfall: Part 6 – The Scaffold Speech 28 July 1540

An execution at Tower Hill, circa 1550s

‘A true Christian confession of the L. Cromwel at his death.’

July 28 marked a dramatic day at Tower Hill. The most powerful man in England was to die due to forces entirely outside of his control. Cromwell had selected the perfect queen in Anna of Cleves, a beautiful, well-connected duchess, whose brother Duke Wilhelm of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and her sister Electress Sybilla of Saxony, had powerful allies and the Schmalkaldic army on their side. But when Duke Wilhelm threatened war with Emperor Charles over the duchy of Guelders while Anna was travelling to England to her marriage, suddenly the duchess who promised powerful allies now also tied King Henry to enter a war he could not win, and would not benefit from at all. Cromwell’s paperwork on the marriage was as strong and watertight as all his work; it could not just be undone, and Henry wed a woman who tied him to war. Henry believed in Cromwell still, even making him an earl in April 1540, but when sexual humiliation reared its head (excuse the pun), Henry snapped and arrested his most faithful servant. Cromwell undid the marriage contract from his room in the Tower, bolstered by fabricated affidavits, talking of Anna being so ugly that Henry couldn’t consummate.  An annulment would stop Emperor Charles’ anger at England potentially allying against him, but there needed to be proof, there needed to be someone to blame for the marriage to a duchess who linked England to war. With statements about throwaway comments made to his enemies, Cromwell was attainted for heresy and treason, and conspiring to marry Princess Mary (based on literally no evidence). Even though Henry started to realise his mistake on 9 July, a man attainted could not have his sentence wiped; it would set a legal precedent. But as much as Cromwell’s enemies wanted him dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn and hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor, or burned at the stake as a heretic, Henry granted Cromwell’s cry for mercy and ordered a beheading.

While primary sources of the day offer sketchy  detail, the works Foxe, Hume, Cox, Galter,  Herbert, and Hall all offer insights to the day. It is suggested that Cromwell only learned of his style of execution on the morning from William Laxton and Martin Bowes, two sheriffs at the Tower, who came to him after breakfast, which he had just after dawn on a sunny summer’s day. Hume wrote that one thousand halberdiers were there to flank Cromwell’s short walk from the Tower to the scaffold on the hill, for an unfounded fear that Cromwellians would mount an escape bid. There, Cromwell met Walter Lord Hungerford, who was also destined to die for the crimes of incest, buggery and wife-beating, and had lost his mind by the time of his death. The men knew one another through their work for the king, and Foxe wrote that Cromwell tried to comfort the mad baron:

“There is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy enough from the Lord, who for Christ’s sake, will forgive you. Therefore, be not dismayed and though the breakfast which we are going to be sharp, trusting in the mercy of the Lord, we shall have a joyful dinner.”

Final words on the scaffold were not a time to defend oneself, fire anger at your enemies or beg for freedom. Cromwell had to deliver a speech to cement his legacy and save his son Gregory, daughter-in-law Elizabeth and their three sons, as well as Richard and Frances Cromwell and Ralph and Ellen Sadler, their very young children, and Cromwell’s wide extended family. Cromwell, accompanied by Thomas Wyatt on the scaffold for support, gave his final speech.

“I am come hither to die, and not to purge my self, as some think peradventure that I will. For if I should so do, I were a very wretch and a Miser. I am by the Law condemned to die, and thank my Lord God, that hath appointed me this death for mine Offence. For sithence the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived a sinner, and offended my Lord God, for the which I ask him heartily forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you, that I have been a great Traveller in this World, and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithence the time I came thereunto I have offended my Prince, for the which I ask him heartily forgiveness, and beseech you all to pray to God with me, that he will forgive me. And now I pray you that be here, to bear me record, I die in the Catholic Faith, not doubting in any Article of my Faith, no nor doubting in any Sacrament of the Church. Many have slandered me and reported that I have been a bearer of such as have maintained evil Opinions, which is untrue. But I confess, that like as God by his holy Spirit doth instruct us in the Truth, so the Devil is ready to seduce us, and I have been seduced; but bear me witness that I die in the Catholic Faith of the holy Church; and I heartily desire you to pray for the Kings Grace, that he may long live with you in health and prosperity; and that after him his Son Prince Edward that goodly Imp may long Reign over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaineth in this flesh, I waver nothing in my Faith.”

Cromwell then went on to pray:

“O Lord Jesus, which art the only health of all men living, and the everlasting life of them which die in thee; I wretched sinner do submit my self wholly unto thy most blessed will, and being sure that the thing cannot Perish which is committed unto thy mercy, willingly now I leave this frail and wicked flesh, in sure hope that thou wilt in better wise restore it to me again at the last day in the resurrection of the just. I beseech thee most merciful Lord Jesus Christ, that thou wilt by thy grace make strong my Soul against all temptations, and defend me with the Buckler of thy mercy against all the assaults of the Devil. I see and knowledge that there is in my self no hope of Salvation, but all my confidence, hope and trust is in thy most merciful goodness. I have no merits nor good works which I may allege before thee. Of sins and evil works, alas, I see a great heap; but yet through thy mercy I trust to be in the number of them to whom thou wilt not impute their sins; but wilt take and accept me for righteous and just, and to be the inheritor of everlasting life. Thou merciful Lord wert born for my sake, thou didst suffer both hunger and thirst for my sake; thou didst teach, pray, and fast for my sake; all thy holy Actions and Works thou wroughtest for my sake; thou sufferedst most grievous Pains and Torments for my sake; finally, thou gavest thy most precious Body and thy Blood to be shed on the Cross for my sake. Now most merciful Saviour, let all these things profit me, which hast given thy self also for me. Let thy Blood cleanse and wash away the spots and fulness of my sins. Let thy righteousness hide and cover my unrighteousness. Let the merit of thy Passion and blood shedding be satisfaction for my sins. Give me, Lord, thy grace, that the Faith of my salvation in thy Blood waver not in me, but may ever be firm and constant. That the hope of thy mercy and life everlasting never decay in me, that love wax not cold in me. Finally, that the weakness of my flesh be not overcome with the fear of death. Grant me, merciful Saviour, that when death hath shut up the eyes of my Body, yet the eyes of my Soul may still behold and look upon thee, and when death hath taken away the use of my Tongue, yet my heart may cry and say unto thee, Lord into thy hands I commend my Soul, Lord Jesus receive my spirit, Amen.”

Cox wrote that Cromwell then turned to Wyatt and sad “farewell, Wyatt,” and that his friend was deeply upset at this stage, and Cromwell added, “gentle Wyatt, pray for me.” Cromwell removed his gown, gave forgiveness to his executioner and prayed him to take his head with a single blow. Conflicting reports exist of what came next. The news of the execution travelled Europe, changing with every letter. Hume wrote Cromwell’s head came off with a single blow. But Galton wrote that the axeman, a “ragged and butcherly wretch” and that the first blow instead hit Cromwell’s skull, and that it took half and hour to cut through Cromwell’s neck. While that seems like a story built on dramatics and exaggeration, regardless of the number of blows required, Cromwell would have been unconscious or dead within seconds.

Hungerford, however, was quickly killed without fanfare or wise words, and Cromwell’s mangled head went on London Bridge like all the rest, his body buried at St Peter ad Vincula, close to Anne Boleyn, whom the king had ordered killed during an Easter conversation with Cromwell only four years earlier. King Henry married Katheryn Howard at Oatlands the same day, not that any knew that at the time. No one who rose in the English court escaped eventual fates like this; it would be surprising if Cromwell had never considered this as his eventual fate.

Thomas Cromwell was undoubtedly the genius of the English court, a man whose mind far exceeded those about him. While his genius was exploited by King Henry, whose orders Cromwell could not refuse, it meant that many never truly appreciated Cromwell, too busy sneering at the rank of his birth. These people were only in power due to their birth, and should have been grateful to breathe the same air as a man who far exceeded them in intelligence, generosity and charm.


Cromwell’s final speech: Passages from Foxe’s Ecclesiastical History, Vol. ii. p 433

John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, 1563

Arthur Galton, The Character of Times of Thomas Cromwell, 1887

Edward Hall, The Triumphant Reigne of Kyng Henry the VIII, vol 2, p306-7

Edward Herbert, Life and Raigne of of King Henry the Eighth, Bodleian Library Oxford, Folio 624, 462

Richard Cox, Elizabethan Bishop of Ely, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Parker Society MS 168 f. 209rv

Martin Hume, The Chronicle of King Henry VIII 1889, p104